Dennis Rodman, the former NBA great known for his outspoken behavior, took issue Tuesday with some who have complained that he is a patsy for Korean ruler Kim Jong-un in his agreement to lead an exhibition basketball game in a country known for its brutal and oppressing dictatorship.
Rodman used the argument that it was really all about ten people who gave up time with their families to come help another country in a sports event. He said it was nothing more than an attempt to bridge a gap in relations between the United States and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whom Rodman described as a friend.
Rodman was asked about Kenneth Bae, an American missionary who has been held prisoner in the country since May. Rodman responded in a rather agitated tone that nobody really knew all the reasons behind the imprisonment. He said he would love to speak out on the issue, but did not elaborate further.
Kim Jong-un is known for his love of basketball. However, he is more famously known for his brutal rule. He reportedly had his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, killed last month and continues to imprison entire families for taking issue with his leadership.
Rodman said the purpose of the game is to mark Kim’s birthday. There are a total of 12 players from America, including former NBA greats Kenny Anderson, Vin Baker, Eric Floyd, Cliff Robinson, Doug Christie and Charles D. Smith. The roster also includes some players who were never a part of the National Basketball Association.
While en route to a practice session with the North Korean team, Rodman displayed for everyone a Korean-designed vodka bottle that had an illustration of the Korean dictator and Rodman. The pair had struck up a friendship during a banquet last February. When arriving in Beijing on Monday, Rodman was the guest of honor at a banquet hosted by the North Korean government.
Rodman was insistent with reporters that this excursion can open up a relationship with North Korea. He said Kim’s style of ruling was not something with which he needed to be concerned and that it was not his job to talk about human rights. Rodman called Kim Jong-un his friend and said “I love him.” Rodman said those taking issue with the exhibition game did not understand his intent.
Fellow American teammate Charles D. Smith said the game was just a cultural exchange. He said that it was about Rodman’s passion for children and families. Smith further stated that the game was about goodwill and nothing else.
In further comments, Rodman said that the North Korean regime was “not that bad” and suggested that it may be overplayed by the press. This did not sit well with human rights groups such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Amnesty International. Both groups have taken issue with Rodman for visiting a nation that has been responsible for millions of people suffering starvation and imprisonment of as many as 200,000 people for criticizing the administration’s policies.
According to one source, Kim’s government prohibits any organization designed to oppose his rule. The government also opposes the freedom of religion or media. Some serious problems that continue to go unresolved include torture and state-allowed rape, according to Human Rights Watch. The government is also said to publicly execute people for hoarding food, stealing state property and other crimes they deem as “anti-socialist.”
The United Nations says the Kim leadership funnels food aid to government and military leaders. Over 2 million people have reportedly died from starvation due to these actions on the part of the North Korean government.
Amnesty International U.K. director Kate Allen has commented in the past that if Rodman is going to host an exhibition game he should bring up the human rights record of North Korea with Kim Jong-un. Allen believes this would be a better action than taking issue with those who complain.
By Rick Hope